Decades, hours later woman gets President’s nod

Adele Coplen
Adele Coplen received the “President's Call to Service Award,” marking 4,000 hours of volunteer work throughout a lifetime.

ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) – For more than 23 years, Adele Coplen has clocked in, helped visitors and clocked out. Thousands of volunteer hours later and the 87-year-old Albuquerque woman is getting recognized not only by her peers, but by the President.

“I had 7 children and that kept me very busy,” Coplen said.

Getting out didn’t happen all too often for Coplen. That is, until she found the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science.

“The museum is marvelous,” Coplen said. “It’s my second family.”

At 87 years old, it’s also been her second home, spending the last 23 years volunteering there.

“You have to be there to love it! Once you’re there, you don’t want to leave.”

So she stayed, pushing for 4,000 hours of volunteer work.

“I feel like I was supposed to do this,” Coplen said.

KRQE News 13 followed Coplen around the museum last month as she battled a bad hip.

“Even though the arthritis is killing me and I can hardly walk, I can’t wait to get that letter,” Coplen said.

For all of that time, she now has that letter, from Barack Obama.

“It’s signed by the President of the United States.”

Coplen received the “President’s Call to Service Award,” marking 4,000 hours of volunteer work throughout a lifetime.

When asked why she thought it was so important to stay active and volunteer, Coplen had this to say.

“I do not know. But I know that I wasn’t meant to wake-up, sit on the couch and knit and crochet.”

Years and years ago, Coplen left the museum to care for her dying husband.

“I had a monster, monster time,” she remembers “I was in deep depression.”

When he passed, she wasn’t sure if she would ever go back. Obviously, though, she did and hasn’t looked back since.

“I needed the museum, the museum didn’t need me and that’s what the answers been,” Coplen said “It’s filled my space that I needed filled.”

When News 13’s original story about Coplen aired last month, a woman with the President’s Volunteer Service Award was in Albuquerque. She says she saw the story and took it upon herself to notify the President.

Coplen goes in for hip surgery on Tuesday. After a 3 month recovery, she says she will be back at the museum. provides commenting to allow for constructive discussion on the stories we cover. In order to comment here, you acknowledge you have read and agreed to our Terms of Service. Users who violate these terms, including use of vulgar language or racial slurs, will be banned. Please be respectful of the opinions of others. If you see an inappropriate comment, please flag it for our moderators to review.

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